Former Mana musician Rodger Fox talks to about joining a rock band, Lady Gaga singing jazz and his radical plans for the Rodger Fox Big Band.
Was the trombone your first instrument?
My first was the violin, which I didn’t like. Then I learnt the trumpet for three or four years, which I enjoyed. My father was head of music at Mana College. He had lost most of his trombone players when I was about to go to the school. So he bought me a trombone and I had the school holidays to learn it. Did you have a choice? No. It was actually the best thing that happened to me because there weren’t many people doing it, so that opened a lot of doors for me. I was pretty novel, being a trombone player in a rock band.
When did you join a rock band?
When I left school I was planning to be a classical trombone player. I was accepted into the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra trainees, but they cut the intake, so that was my classical career stopped. There was an advertisement in The Evening Post for brass players wanted for the rock band Quincy Conserve. They had top-10 hits in the late 60s and early 70s and played in the main venues. I was in the band for six years. Where did you grow up? Christchurch. My parents were musicians, and were always conducting brass bands and doing musical productions. It was a busy household. I followed that, but possibly a bit more manic.
How do you balance performing with teaching at the New Zealand School of Music?
One thing helps the other. I really love teaching. I direct big bands and I teach trombone. I’m a joint co-ordinator for the young music programme for Victoria University. Then I’ve got the Rodger Fox Big Band, the most recognisable big band in New Zealand. It’s been going for 42 years. People see me play in events and know I teach at the school, so there’s a lot of synergy in what I do that keeps me going.
How has musical education changed since you were a student?
When I started in the 1960s there was no jazz education at high school or university. You had to go overseas or learn from records and books. The first jazz university programme was the New Zealand School of Music, although it’s had several names.
Is jazz music still as popular today?
If you listen to George Benson or Steely Dan, the chords are jazz and the rhythm’s jazz. You have Lady Gaga singing jazz with Tony Bennett. The harmonic side is all jazz. The best performances I’ve seen were Santana, James Brown and Steely Dan. They had fantastic musicianship, stage presence and energy. All of them had some jazz overtone through improvisation.
Who have you most enjoyed working with?
Michael Brecker was a groundbreaking saxophone player and a very nice man with a giving personality. He imparted a lot of knowledge on to musicians in the